SmartThings Community

Making the case for going full blown home automation


You can get a lot of inspiration from the project reports on the quick browse lists in the community – created wiki. In particular the get started list, the impress your friends list, and the whole house list :sunglasses:

You rarely get cost savings from whole house automation, that’s more from targeted projects. ( if you did, a lot more people would be using automation.)

In my case, it was another category altogether: independence. But I have a limited budget, around $200-$500 per room, and not every room, so every project I choose has to have an immediate practical payback. My own project report is here. :sunglasses:

(Chris Fichter) #6

If you have kids believe me you will save on energy. I have three kids and they are the last ones to leave the house on school days. And they love to leave all the lights on when they leave. So the lights would be on all day. So now when the last person leaves everything in the house is shut off. I also have it set up so when one individual kid leaves their bedroom light turns off. I also have the bathroom fans automated also cuz those used to be left on. When everyone leaves not only do the lights turn off but also ceiling fans and TVs, along with their audio receivers. And yes my energy bill is noticeably lower. and I also have my outside lights setup so if it is light outside and the lights are turned on they turned back off. Oh and by the front door there are three switches. one of them are for outside and two of them are for inside. one of the kids can’t remember which light switch does what so she will end up turning on the outside light leaving it on and then go to the next switch to see if that’s the one she’s looking for. That outside light is a 500 watt halogen.

(Jason "The Enabler" as deemed so by @Smart) #7

Here’s my story and I’m sticking to it… until it changes…

I live in a 2400 ft sq 2 story home. I have 5 kids that live with me, with 3 others that come and go. My parents live here as well… along with 4 cats and 2 dogs. I live in a crazy house!

The kids are 17 y/o boy, 17 y/o boy, 13 y/o boy, 6 y/o boy, and a 15 m/o girl…

When the teens leave for work, their rooms turn off. All game systems and computers turn off at the appropriate bed times. When they leave for school everything turns off as well. Those little things alone save me a ton of money every month. Then there are the lights… they turn themselves off… which saves me both money and they headache of constantly telling them to turn off the lights when they leave the rooms.

Ceiling fans are on when someone is in the room. The A/C adjust according to modes, but if we are all gone (rarely) then the entire house shuts down and the A/C adjust itself…

I come down in the morning with my baby girl and while I’m taking care of her I just the house to turn on the TV and to watch Sesame Street… a real convenience when the baby is asleep in your arms and the remote is across the room, but Alexa is right next to you on the table.

I can monitor my home for anywhere… and control every aspect of it.

You open a closet door and the lights come on, close it, they turn off. You walk into the laundry room with a basket in your hands, the lights come on when you open the door, and turn off when you leave. I never walk into a dark garage. And When I come home from the grocery store, the garage door opens, the lights come on from the garage to the kitchen, and the kids are told to come down and help with the groceries… all as I pull into the driveway.

Just an idea of what I’m working with…

3 Echo’s
6 Dot’s
Lots of connected speakers
around 175 physical devices
Harmony Hub
Hue Bridge
ST Hub

But my absolute favorite is the communication system I’ve designed. I can be in any room in the house and send a voice message anywhere in the house, and people can respond to me. Not a precanned preprogrammed messaged, but a free form speech message.

I say, Alexa, tell the Living Room, Hey Wendi this is Jason, please come upstairs to the bedroom. She responds to me by telling the Bedroom… Ok, be right there.

My family was reluctant at first… but they absolutely love the automation now.

My teenagers can’t turn their games on without permission… The only way to turn them on is to tell Alexa to do it, and she will ask you for the password… sure, they can get around it by messing with the plugs… but I can also tell right away if they do… and they know better than to play that little game.

Full automation is awesome. It’s fun… It’s expensive… It addicting… But in my house… it’s a great thing to have!

(Michael Shutt) #8

Thanks for the feedback guys. The cool factor is definitely there. I guess I need to try to estimate the cost next and then see if I can rationalize the whole thing. For now, I’m focusing on climate control, security and lighting. I’m thinking at a minimum I’ll need:

  • ST Hub
  • ZWave/Wifi thermostats
  • ZWave light switches throughout the house
  • ZWave outlets where needed
  • Motion sensors in all major rooms?
  • Door sensors for external doors and closets
  • ZWave deadbolts on external doors
  • Linear garage door openers and sensors
  • Voice control (Echo gear), likely a phase 2 thing

Anything obvious I’m overlooking?


I’ve an extreme old-timer on HA, having been around for the early BSR X10 days. I’ve automated, to various degrees, four successive homes of mine, with technologies moving from that X10 (CM11A controller initially, up through Adicon Ocelot/Leopard), to using fledgeling Insteon and HomeSeer, with forays into UPB, ZWave and even hard-wiring. I wrote a popular plug-in, PowerTrigger, that brought flexibility and also security camera integration into HomeSeer back in the day. And I wrote LANNouncer for SmartThings plus Android.

In not-so-short, this ain’t my first rodeo.

If you’re really looking at security, you can’t use SmartThings. You need better reliability.

If you’re really looking at full home automation, for a full home, you can’t use SmartThings. You need more control.

SmartThings is entry-level home automation. Mostly easy to use, you don’t have to do any programming to use it adequately, but it doesn’t get you very far. Even with programming, it doesn’t get you very far in terms of ease. Although the IFTTT and Alexa integration can provide a simulation of ease.

HomeSeer, in contrast, takes much longer to set up and a basic setup for SmartThings-equivalent functionality will cost you about six times more than SmartThings. So many things are a $50 add-on; that’s half the cost of SmartThings right there. And the hardware - you either need a PC running it 24/7 or to buy one of their hardware controllers, which are also basically PCs - so that’s a cost. But… you aren’t reliant on their cloud. It works, and it works quickly. You have far more power. And it will take ten times longer to get it doing the first bits.

This isn’t really a ding against SmartThings. SmartThings is great for adding automation to an apartment. But if you want to go much further, you’ll hit limits pretty quickly.


1) A/V control for your television/music system if you want that. That might be phase 2 for you, because typically people are looking for voice control. But some people add motion sensor or pressure Mat control. Or just want the ability to coordinate the lights and the television so that you can, for example, have the television shift to Netflix and the room lights dim to 50%. You would probably use a Logitech Harmony hub ($89 for each television, although depending on your exact requirements you might be able to just use a $35 chrome cast for each television if you use Google home for voice instead of Amazon echo). It integrates well with SmartThings.

2) Some kind of Geopresence so that your house automatically knows when you leave or return. There are several options for that:

3 You might want some handheld or tabletop button remotes just for convenience. These are very popular for those times when you don’t want to use voice control, such as having something on the nightstand that can arm/disarm the security features, turn on some lights, change the mode so the system knows you’re awake, things like that. There are many choices in this category. You might not need any but most people do end up getting one or two.

4 Cameras. these could be for security, as video intercoms, or as video doorbells. These might also be a phase 2 or even phase 3. This is an area where SmartThings is pretty weak, so a lot of people end up not really trying to integrate this into a SmartThings installation. But it’s something most people consider sooner or later. It tends to be one of the more expensive items so it’s good to just be aware that you may want to look into those.

I included video doorbells and video intercoms in this group, but these days most people get purpose built units instead of just another camera for these use cases.

5. smoke alarms I personally don’t recommend making this part of a SmartThings system, but if you do want to add secondary notifications like having the lights flash or the doors unlock if the smoke alarm goes off, there are several ways to do that. Either you get a Z Wave smoke detector or you get an acoustic sensor like the $49 Leeo which will trigger when the hears the nonSmartThings alarms go off and can be integrated with SmartThings through IFTTT. You might also be able to wire A zwave relay into a hardwired smoke alarm system so that the relay can notify SmartThings of activity. And there is also some unofficial possible integration with nest protect, I don’t know much about that one.

Anyway, the point is that if you want full integration, it’s going to affect your selection of the smoke alarms themselves. If you want to integrate through an acoustic sensor, you can just add that later. If you want to try the Z wave really, that doesn’t work with all wiring set ups, so you should research that as soon as possible.

6. Other sensors for temperature, humidity, lights, leaks, vibration, etc. The main point of this is that while the use cases might not come until phase 2, if you think you’re going to want these it will definitely affect device selection in phase 1 because these are the kinds of options that some contact sensors have and some don’t. So it might be worth it to get more expensive phase 1 sensors that can cover the features for these use cases rather than having to buy all new devices for phase 2 sensors.

The following thread covers the different features that different device classes might have.

7. Wearables I just mention this because it can affect device selection. There is unfortunately no real integration at this point between the Samsung gear watch and SmartThings. There’s a very limited integration, essentially the ability to add widgets, to the Apple Watch. But I use my Apple Watch with my automation system a lot, mostly through IFTTT and devices that support HomeKit. It’s just another factor to consider, although it might well be phase 2 or phase 3.

8. Irrigation system. again, probably phase 2 or phase 3, but for a lot of people this is one of the big pluses of whole house Home automation. For technical reasons, this will probably be a zigbee system.

9. Holiday lights. typically Halloween and Christmas, but any holiday where you put up lights can usually benefit a lot from integration with your home automation system in terms of convenience. You can see what other members have done on the holiday project reports list in the quick browse section of the community – created wiki. These are also often projects which have very high family acceptance factor. :heart_eyes::snowman_with_snow::jack_o_lantern:

10. Notification Alerts. Anything from “the mail has arrived” to “the laundry is done.” These are popular automation use cases. They typically will require one additional sensor on whatever is being monitored. And then your choice of one or more notifications, such as a push message on your smart watch your phone, A spoken announcement, A light flashing or changing color, A chime, a siren, etc.

I mention this because it’s one of the most popular use cases for an RGBW color changing light, whether it’s a bulb or light strip. And it also tends to have a high family acceptance factor. Most whole house systems will have some of these, how many depends on your own needs and preferences. And, of course, your budget as the cost of these can add up fast.

11. Night lights I only mention this because your list only had zwave light switches on it, and most of those don’t dim low enough for nightlight use cases. LED strips, purposebuilt nightlights like the HSM200, or smart bulbs are more popular for nightlight use cases. So that might be a phase 2, but it could have an impact on some of your phase 1 device selection.

12. Window shades and automated windows. These are expensive, but for some people they are the first thing that they automate. There are a number of different ways to do it and a number of different products that can be integrated with SmartThings, so you don’t have to think about it until you’re ready for that specific use case. But if you’re really talking whole house automation, it is typically part of the project. :sunglasses:

Well, those are just a few more options to consider, I’m sure other people can add additional ones.

Have fun! You might also need the following thread, a lot of us do… :wink:

(Jason "The Enabler" as deemed so by @Smart) #11

Hi Tony,
Thanks for LANNouncer, I use the heck out of that app.

I’ve only been with ST since Sept 2015. I was with Wink for a very short time prior and that was the beginning of my HA adventure.

But, doesn’t this statement really depend on what the user is wanting in their home? I don’t live in an apartment, and honestly I’m very happy with what ST can do for me… I feel that it’s really limited to our imaginations… So far, I’ve not run across anything that I wanted to do that I couldn’t do…

Can you give me some ideas on what is out there in HA that I’m not seeing in ST?


Sure, Jason. It’s not just about the “can you do it”, but the “how reliably, seamlessly and easily can you do it”.

I used HomeSeer and UPB to control pond pumps and outdoor security lighting, tied into cameras. In theory, you can do this with SmartHome, but it’s just plain not reliable enough for heavy essential-duty pumps and security lights.

For example, at my last house, the surveillance system (cameras) had a motion detection system for determining when to record, which could close a dry-contact. I only wanted that to result in the home automation system emailing me and changing the lights if that happened and it wasn’t too windy (making motion from the trees) as per the backyard weather station and the alarm was turned on. (The alarm was my proxy for “I’m not expecting motion there.”) This is pretty easy in HomeSeer (which is what I was using.) I’m not even sure I can integrate off-the-shelf DVR camera systems (that one was from Costco), alarms (that was a DSC which only supported a low-voltage light output for external data, so I had to use a sensor for that) and weather stations (via RS-232 to USB to HomeSeer) with SmartThings. And I did, I’m certain the false alarms (and false negatives) would be so distracting as to render it useless.

(Jason "The Enabler" as deemed so by @Smart) #13

I completely understand the lack of reliability that ST is known for… I’ve had more than my fair share of issues and headaches.

I guess maybe it’s just me, I always took it as a challenge to see what I could do to program out the bugs as far as my system perception goes. There have been dramatic improvements over the past year, amazingly good advances in reliability, at least in my opinion.

There are a lot of things that I haven’t even ventured into, and probably never will. I agree there are much more reliable options out there, but like you said, at the price point and if you’re willing to put in the time… ST is great.

But, I guess that is the trade off really… pay more money, spend less time. Pay less money, spend more time.


Or pay a little more money, accept fewer features, and spend a lot less time on maintenance.

If all you want is lighting control by voice, on a simple time schedule, and with simple motion sensor triggers, there are multiple alternatives that are very reliable and don’t cost much more than SmartThings. Maybe even the same.

The challenge with SmartThings is that it provides a “proof of concept” capability for a zillion different very complex home automation scenarios. But the set up is very complicated and the reliability is still uncertain. So The answer to “Can SmartThings do this?” Is almost always yes. But the answer to “will it do it every Tuesday afternoon at 6:30?” Is maybe. Most of the time. And the answer to “How do I get SmartThings to do this?” Is often way more complicated than the limited feature systems.

So as always, it comes down to your own needs and preferences, including your preference for how much UI complexity you can tolerate. :wink:

(Joel W) #15

For me Home Automation was something I wanted to do for me and my family. The question is why? Well I thought long and hard about the pros and cons, and came up to one compelling reason. Our Carbon Footprint. OK I am not saying that we waste a huge amount of electricity do to just lazy habits, but yes I am. Before we moven ito this 2350 square foot one floor home, I lived in a three level split. Many a time I would leave a room or even a floor and leave a light on, and not think a thing about it. But I soon realized that my electricity bills were increasing by the month. Now I said we have got to conserve. I thought Ok we will change our habits, well that didn’t work! So when we moved here I decided on home automation. Being an electrician in the building automation industry, I decided that occupancy detectors would serve the purpose. Well in a way they did, but it didn’t solve everything, we needed the house to also have the appearance of activity when we were away for security. So then I decided that old school was not the way to go, and hence the Smart House concept. First I changed every filament or fluorescent light to LED, then added smart switches and receptacles . I soon noticed my electricity bills were cut by almost 3/4s. Next a smart Thermostat and Smart Energy monitors, and that brought my energy down another small amount. Then on one side of the house that gets the wind and the sun I installed motorized blinds, not to conserve energy just to make it more comfortable at a lower temp. Here in the cold climate the biggest help was a computerized humidifier, which keeps the humidity at a good level allowing a cooler temp inside, without being cold.

So all in all I would say I spent a small fortune tuning my system and it has become an obsession. Yes I plan on adding more automation, but I am refining it to getting better devices to replace ones that I feel are not up to par. I can go on and on about why, I did this, but the answers are obvious. It started out to be to save bucks, went to convenience and turned into a obession.

(Michael Shutt) #16

Wow. If I had line of sight to those kinds of savings this would be an easy decision. I’m already on board with LED, I wonder how much of your savings were due to that change? I started estimating costs for automation and can’t believe how many friggin light switches this house has :unamused:.

(Joel W) #17

Michael, don’t look at it that way. The average person doesn’t use every room in the house. So choose the ones you frequent the most and automate them. Now when you are thinking about automating think of method of use. Example: Our Master Bedroom has high hats but we tend to turn on the lamps and the fan light. So what I choose to do is use switchable smart plugs for the lamp, and since my fan has two switches one for the light and one for the speed. I automated the light. I then have a remote button that turns on the two lamps. the buttons are on the wall and near the bed. Yes I saved a bundle just moving to LED. My family room and kitchen are open concept with cans in the ceiling each was 75 watts. I changed them to 75 watt equivalent LED which draws 15 watts and are Daylight. So 14 lights times 15 watts is 210 watts compared to 14 lights times 75 watts is 1,050 watts, a savings of 840 watts. Now take all the other fixtures in the house and outside I have saved a large amount of watts. I also replaced all the appliances in the house to high efficiency saved there also. I didn’t want to replace the appliances but soon after moving in they started to go one right after the other.


Right, there’s a difference between the savings due to Automation and the savings due to changing the device to something which is more energy saving, such as LED bulbs. A lot of people do both projects at the same time, but others will have already switched over a lot of devices first. For example, we had solar power at our house for four years before we added any automation. :sun_with_face:

(Paul Haskins) #19

One of the first things I did was change the light switch for the unfinished basement and the garage to a zwave. I set up a Aeon color bulb and activate the bulb when either switch is on.

Now I no longer leave them on… all night.

I know I could make it even smarter, but not worth it payoff wise.

I use non smart motion activated in a few key areas, both for savings and safety.

Since I have a dot in the kitchen I can also turn on/off the basement hands free.

(Joel W) #20

I have a Echo in the kitchen between the kitchen and family room and a Dot in my office. I also use the app Reverb on my iPhone which duplicates Alexa on my phone. I use that when in a room far away from Alexa. Reverb is just great.

(Jason "The Enabler" as deemed so by @Smart) #21

Personally, I haven’t let the price be a part of my decisions… If I think it’s cool I just do it… But I never pay full retail…

Just decide what’s important to you and tailor your projects to that… If it’s money, extend your project time frame… Our whatever.

(Michael Shutt) #22

Yea, what I call “full-blown” automation is probably just beginner’s stuff for you. The way I see it, the biggest part of the cost in setting this up is in the devices. I figure that if I get it running with ST and like it, but find that ST reliability isn’t good enough or that their architecture has limitations that stop me from doing something I really want, I have the option of switching over to HomeSeer or openHAB.


There’s a line between when you’ve spent more than you’ll reasonably save back. With my previous homes, the heavy duty pond pumps and the lighting and heat needed in the forest made for simpler math. But that was partially because I’d also spent more on the basics due to the WAF (wife acceptance factor) of a dark forest; the Home Automation was an easy sell. So the several hundred dollars for the base were basically covered as a security cost. SmartThings is still just a bit too unpredictable for that role right now.

(Jason "The Enabler" as deemed so by @Smart) #24

Honestly, with the price of devices, looking for cost payback probably isn’t the best idea.

Take for example…

1 smart switch @ 50.00
1 motion sensor @ 30.00
We will not include the cost of a hub.

If you already have one led light that stays on for 12 hours per day before automation. 13 watts X 12 hours X 30 days = 4.68 kwh per month @ .125 cents per kwh = 59 cents per month

If you automate that bulb with the hardware above and you are able to save 4 hours of ruin time per day, you are saving… 13 watts X 4 hours X 30 days = 1.56 kwh X .125 cents per kwh = 20 cents savings per month.

Now take your 80.00 investment / 20 cents = 33.3 years for recovery time.

My point, either buy that stuff at a huge discount, or find a reason other than cost savings.